The pelican papers

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Wrong — again

Posted by Ron George on September 16, 2015

Ms. Davis exults upon her release from jail for contempt of court, with GOP presidential candidate to her right.

Ms. Davis exults upon her release from jail for contempt of court.

If there were 10 commandments of journalism, No. 1 would be keep your facts straight, followed by don’t jump to conclusions.

I broke both of those commandments Monday with a post about Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who’s made national headlines for the past several weeks stemming from her refusal to issue any marriage licenses in Rowan County because her Apostolic Christian beliefs would not let her issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples.

My facts were wrong. Ms. Davis is not a member of the Apostolic Church of America (ACA); and, I jumped to that conclusion based on insufficient research. I regret both – the matter of fact and of judgment.

For the record, Ms. Davis is a member of Solid Rock Apostolic Church in Morehead, Ky., which is not affiliated with ACA. It’s listed at, “a worldwide directory apostolic Pentecostal churches and ministries.” These congregations are not the same as ACA, but they do have a literalist/fundamentalist approach to Christian scripture.

Much of the criticism of Ms. Davis in Monday’s post remains intact: That she does a disservice to her fundamentalist faith tradition by swearing an oath of office (see James 5.11-12) and by not honoring the authority of the state (see Mt. 22.21, Rom. 13.3-10, I Peter 2.12-14); in this case, the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected her argument that her personal religious convictions entitled her to deny services to the public that she swore to provide. Also, in my opinion, she overreached her authority of office, based on the oath she took (and shouldn’t have, based on her fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.)

That, however, does not excuse the author, yours truly, from the errors cited above, which were compounded by publication of a shortened version of the post in today’s Corpus Christi Caller-Times. I owe my former colleague, Editorial Page Editor Tom Whitehurst a heaping measure of regret, too.

Is there any way, really, to express the depths one’s sorrow at being so wrong? Not really.

It reminds me of my first and not last major published error as a journalist when I was a cub reporter for The Houston Chronicle circa 1969: Misidentification of a murder victim based on detectives’ guesswork rather than evidence.

It was back in the day when journalists could walk onto a crime scene and stand next to detectives as they turned the body over. The body was mangled and partially burned. I had a newspaper clipping of a missing businessman the Chronicle had previously published. I put it next to the victim’s mangled, bloodied face. Yep, said a detective. That’s him, the missing businessman.

I came to work the next day to find an entry in the Chronicle copy log at Houston police headquarters: It wasn’t the man in the photograph but another missing businessman. Same build. Another white guy from Dallas.

The city editor wanted to know, “How did this happen?” So did the managing editor. So did the public. I was let off the hook because Houston’s TV stations made the same mistake based on the detective’s erroneous assumption.

Whew! I didn’t lose my job. I might have, though; a career nipped in the bud.

I wish I could say I was scared straight by that experience more than 45 years ago, that I was error-free in my practice of journalism all the years I toiled in that field. I wasn’t, though it wasn’t for lack of trying to keep facts straight and not jump to conclusions. I made some glaring errors at the Caller-Times between 1983 and 1999. There are no excuses, despite all we hear about deadline pressure and workload – and there’s no place to hide when errors appear in print.

Believe me, I’ve tried; but, eventually, you have to crawl out from under that rock and take sunlight full in the face.


5 Responses to “Wrong — again”

  1. Catherine Penn Williams said

    You’re a good guy, Ron. Thanks for modeling how to take personal responsibility.

  2. Laura said

    Splitting teeny tiny hairs… Substance intact and… Right on.

  3. Jake said

    It was any easy mistake to honestly make. She described herself as an “Apostolic Christian” and if you google that, the first result is the ACCA’s website. Quite a few other places made the same mistake (like Esquire and ThinkProgress).

    Esquire, last I checked hasn’t even made a correction.

    Your response is very impressive, everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone admits them!

    Best of luck!

  4. Jim Abbott said

    You are human – you made a mistake – you confessed, apologized, corrected and now time to move to the next item.

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